You all probably know her as Sasha Williams on The Walking Dead. I knew her as the National Poetry Champion at the American Forensics Association National Individual Events (AFA-NIET) tournament of 2006, and I was star-struck before she killed her first zombie. Here is that story and an embarrassingly quirky moment that is my life.
Collegiate forensics competitions have nothing to do with crime or cutting up dead bodies like many assume when they hear that the college forensics team is recruiting and looking for members to join. It’s speech and debate at the collegiate level.
I was actively involved with the forensics speech and debate team at Minnesota State University-Mankato in which we would write speeches, cut and splice literature to make argumentative performances, and travel just about every weekend to compete for trophies or as we used to say on our team: we win trophies for what we do with our mouth. Every tournament win was a chance to qualify for the coveted chance at competing at the national level at the AFA-NIET tournament.
Oh AFA. Where the best of the best speakers in the nation would gather with hopes of breaking into out rounds. While I was always confident when I was at state and regional tournaments, the AFA-NIET tournament was always the tournament that always made me doubt my abilities, and I spent most of my time in rounds in complete awe of the talent that I was up against. The downside to this was that I always have a habit of completely embarrassing myself because of how socially awkward I can be around people, especially around those that are extremely talented and those I am inspired by.
It was a preliminary round in Poetry. I was always nervous at the national tournaments because you could pretty much count on just about every performance to be on fleek as they say (now, not back then, but I digress).
She walked in, completely resolute in her confidence. And that hair, it was gorgeous. Look, I appreciate when curly hair looks good, because I can never get mine to cooperate; it’s always the hottest of messes. It was styled to perfection, but more importantly she was a genuinely nice person and sincere in the small talk she engaged with her fellow competitors in the round. She performed a poetry program on shoes, and the role they had in shaping gender and personal identity performance. Her interpretation of the literature and performance was awe-inspiring. She weaved in and out of characters, and the audience felt the range of emotions that she was experiencing through her both her execution of the performance and the poetry. A program of poetry all about a seemingly generic topic of shoes. The critical social commentary and arguments she created with the intertextuality of the poetry in her program was everything but generic.
She finished her performance and took her seat next to mine. I was still completely blown away by what I had just experienced. I was star-struck. This would have been the perfect opportunity to congratulate her on her performance; to tell her that she was an extremely talented and inspirational speaker; powerful. What did I do?
I sheepishly smiled and said,
“You’re so pretty, and I really love your hair…”
She awkwardly smiled at me and nervously replied, “Thaaaaanks?”
I don’t think she meant it in a rude or dismissing way at all, I think she was honestly perplexed as to how to respond to not only what I said, but how I said it.
She then asked to be excused from the round as she had other events in this round she had to get to. I was in mid face-palm when the judge called my name to perform. I loved my piece and loved performing it, but I knew…I already lost that round and a part of me was glad she wasn’t able to stick around to see it.
Sonequa not only pwnd in that round, but she went on to win the well-deserved title of National Champion in Poetry for the AFA-NIET 2006. She now stars on The Walking Dead as Sasha Williams.
I very much doubt (and don’t blame her) that she remembers who I am, and I sincerely hope she doesn’t. If she does, she remembers me as that really weird creeper guy from the poetry round that she completely dominated from the speech tournament she completely owned.